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Book Review


Alfred J. Andrea and Andrew Holt (eds.), Seven Myths of the Crusades. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2015. Pp. xxxvi + 163. Suggested Reading and Index. $19.00 (paper). 


     "This little book," its two editors explain, "is an attempt to counter some of the myths engendered by simplistic and, in some cases, perversely distorted narratives that purport to tell, in whole or part, the story of the crusades" (viii).  It is, no doubt, a much-needed corrective to what its ten authors call seven myths that have characterized or popularized the Crusades in either romantic or demonic ways.  Much of this good-or-evil characterization was the result of the Crusades writers' own medievalist or progressive political perceptions of the middle ages, their Catholic or Protestant religious affiliations, the lack of Latin or vernacular sources, and/or their either naïve or deliberate misinterpretations of the Crusades. Both ironically and understandably, the myth-making phenomenon, as well as genuine religious and political divisions over the Crusades, took place more in Western Europe than in the Middle East.

     Readers will very much appreciate the twenty-six page introduction wherein Alfred Andrea and Andrew Holt provide a brief history of how different, mostly European and American writers, who were products of their respective ages and places, went wrong about the Crusades.  The two editors see a major problem in defining the Crusades and differentiate the Crusades authors into four major schools: the traditionalists or minimalists, the pluralists, the popularists or internalists, and the generalists.  The introduction also sets the stage for the seven myth-busting chapters that read like good bibliographical essays on each myth. 

     Each chapter is a product of lifelong research by well-established and highly productive scholars, mostly in the field of medieval studies.  They provide a background for how each myth started, whether in medieval or modern times.  But just as each author is on a crusade to fight a specific myth, each chapter starts with a well-known and not-so-well-known person's extreme views of the Crusades. By going after the extreme views of others, some authors in the book look like they are justifying (by not condemning) some of the reprehensible events that happened in the course of one or another crusade. Thus, some of the authors in the book under review are blaming the anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-Orthodox hostilities on the already existing prevailing religious views in Western Europe that led to the bloody events that characterized the Crusades.

     In Chapter One, while debunking the first myth that "the First Crusade had been an unprovoked atrocity" (2), Paul Crawford reminds the reader that Muslims, from Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam in the seventh century, to Mehmet the Conqueror, an Ottoman sultan in the fifteenth century, were engaged in conquests in the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, and Persia in the east and North Africa, southern Italy, and Sicily and the Iberian peninsula in the west.  In less than a generation after the Prophet's death, all these regions, which had once constituted "a vibrant and vital part of the pre-Islamic Christian world," had fallen to Islam (13).  Rather than pointing to the crusaders' atrocities, Crawford explains how cruel the Muslim conquerors were.  Thus on November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II in Clermont in central France "made his famous speech calling aid to Eastern Christians and the Holy Land," and "Western Europeans were finally ready to mount a major counteroffensive: a counter offensive [Crawford's emphasis], not an initiation of hostilities and certainly very far from the 'first major clash' between Islam and Christianity.  It was merely [reviewer's emphasis] the latest phase in the long running between the two faiths that had begun with the Muslim conquest of Christian Syria in 633" (28).

     Similarly, James Muldoon, in Chapter Two, seizes upon the overgeneralizations of writers, especially the extreme views of Alan Dershowitz who considers the Crusades 'the prelude to the Holocaust,' (31). It is not fair to focus on the extreme views only to reject genuine criticism of the bloody events that happened during the Crusades. Muldoon believes that the crusaders were neither mad men nor religious zealots, although some Crusade authors have accused Peter the Hermit of being just that. It is possible that Pope Urban's Clermont speech was twisted by members of the Church and the nobility even though he intended to arouse only the trained and disciplined warriors of Europe, not the "suicidal fanatics [who] did join the crusade, as the attacks on Jews in 1096 and various other atrocities bear witness" (43). 

     Muldoon and other authors in the book try their best, and it is not easy, to explain what went wrong almost a hundred years later when the army of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 managed to  "capture and pillage Constantinople," the founding seat of the Greek Orthodox Church (43). From the point of view of the Greek Orthodox Church the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade, rather than fighting Muslims in Jerusalem, treacherously killed people and destroyed homes in Constantinople.  It happened because the Catholic Church had excommunicated the Greek Orthodox Church (and vice versa) in 1054.   Was the mutual excommunication of the two denominations the reason behind the treason?  It is possible.

     Daniel Franke, in Chapter Three, explains that although Pope Urban did not mention Jews as enemies of Christians or their God (as Muslims were singled out), "thousands of crusaders considered it natural and a matter of course to include the murder or persecution of Jews in their crusading" (55).  But why did Jewish persecution continue even in subsequent crusades?  "To answer this question, we need to examine Christian-Jewish relations before 1096" (55) because, as Franke explains, "the goal and purpose of the crusade was not to murder or convert Jews" (67). They were persecuted and massacred in different places of Europe not because of, but during, the Crusades.

     The other charges against, or myths of, the Crusades dealt with in subsequent chapters are: was the First Crusade a quest for colonial gain; was the Children's Crusade an attempt by a bunch of kids to take over the Holy Land; and the myth about the making of the Templar Knights during the Crusades, and the concocted connection between the Knights and the Masons.

     In the last chapter, Chapter Seven, Mona Hammad and Edward Peters argue that vested interests in the West and the Islamic world popularized extremist views of the Crusades.  Such views of the Crusades tend toward radical dogmatic ideology and have nothing to do with history.  Even former President George W. Bush's reference to the second Gulf War as a crusade was more a result of his ignorance of history than a factor in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.  However, both Richard the Lionheart and Saladin have been resurrected to fight in the current mythical clash of civilizations between the Islamophobes in the West and the Europhobes in the Islamic World.  

     This wonderful little book, on the one hand, sets the record straight against popular persistent perceptions of events; on the other hand, it reads like an apologia for what happened to innocent and unintended Muslim, Jewish, and Greek Orthodox victims of the Crusades.  Hence, the extreme criticism of the Crusade perpetrators is not fully justified.                

     Anyone who is interested in the Crusades will benefit from this small book.  People in the academia will get a range of issues that both popular and scholarly authors have taken with the Crusades.  Students will get quite valuable sources for the study of the Crusades from the middle to modern ages.

Abdul-Karim Khan is a history professor at the University of Hawaii's Leeward Community College where he teaches courses in World History and Islamic Civilization, and serves as coordinator for the Global Studies Certificate Program.  He can be reached at


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